Acura's California design studio

Cutting-edge design of latest Acura models originates not in Japan but in North America

Published: February 29, 2012, 5:00 PM

Acura was the very first Japanese-brand luxury car, launched by Honda in 1986. It's still the best selling Japanese luxury brand in Canada. In fact, Acura Canada has been outselling its U.S. equivalent by a 3:1 ratio.

There's good reason for that success. A J.D. Power survey of service providers put Acura in the number one spot for all auto dealerships, and Automotive Lease Guide determined that Acura models have the best resale value of all luxury brands. It was also the first luxury brand in which the entire line-up achieved a 5-star safety rating?

The cutting-edge design of recent Acura models is a look that originated not in Japan but in North America – specifically in California.

A $15 million facility dedicated solely to Acura was opened in May 2007 on the massive Honda "campus" in Torrence, across an internal road from the Honda studio and down the road from the company’s Advanced Driving Studio in Pasadena. The whole idea of separating the Acura and Honda studios is to allow Acura to develop and maintain a separate identity from Honda.

The building itself is what you’d expect from a company so deeply ingrained in environmental responsibility. Certified as a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) building by the U.S. Green Building Council, it has an Energy Star reflective roof to reduce heat gain and lower air conditioning requirements. Rreclaimed water is used the landscaping and an intelligent light system maximizes use of natural light.

That brings to 13 the number of Honda/Acura R&D facilities in North America with more than 1,200 designers, engineers and support personnel engaged in the development of automobiles, motorcycles and power equipment products for North America and global markets

But it's what lies inside this new structure that will make Acura different – a small and very young design team and advanced technology, including a computer-generated virtual simulator that allows the designers to see the end product full-size and from every possible angle.

Acura was the first luxury maker to design, develop and build a vehicle in North America. Now, two-thirds of the vehicles it sells here are built here.

The MDX and TL were both designed and developed in North America as was the dramatic ZDX. The latter was the first product of the new studio and it exemplifies the spirit and purpose of the facility – to create unique designs that separate Acura from the pack.

The genre-defining ZDX was designed by then 25-yuear-old Michelle Christensen who was hired by Acura four years ago, right out of the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif.

She started out at Acura designing door handles and other pieces. Then the marketing department challenged the Acura designers to come up with something different, something special. Michelle’s entry was the winner and although nobody knew what to call it, how to classify it, they liked it.

The subsequent decision to proceed with the design shifted the lady’s career into high gear. She worked on almost nothing else for three years, fighting for and justifying every element. The fact the finished product ended up so close to her original sketch is proof that Acura is prepared to take chances.

Just as it is with the new signature snout found across the Acura line. Love it or hate it there is no ignoring it. And that is the goal – to stake out some exclusive design territory from which a small group of talented young designers, in a studio removed from the influence of others, can define a new direction.

Moving Acura design activities into a state-of-the-art independent studio provides a more clear focus to advance the unique character of the Acura brand.